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A master plan for defeating zone defense.

With zone defense making such a strong come-back in modern basketball, coaches are being forced to focus on their zone attacks.


The most intelligent way to begin is by determining why the opponent is using a zone offense against you. The answer, we believe, lies in two, three, or maybe even all of the following points:

1. Because they cannot guard you man-to-man.

2. To protect a weak defender.

3. To confuse the good man-to-man offensive teams.

4. To take the offense by surprise.

5. To get their share of rebounds

6. To facilitate the fast break (since the players are already in good positions.)

7. To avoid being charged with excessive fouls.

8. To protect your star players from fouling out.

9. Because you believe the zone is a better defense than man-to-man.



1. Put the ball into a triple-threat position as soon as you catch it.

2. Perfect a quick jump shot.

3. Take a step toward or away from the basket and shoot.

4. Shoot off the dribble.

5. Pass the ball to the receiver's outside shoulder.

6. Look for the open man at all times (inside or outside the paint.)

7. Practice the short from every shooting position.



1. Each player must position himself in the gap between the defender and form equal-sided triangles.

2. Each player must always be able to have four passes available: diagonal, vertical, parallel and skip.

3. Good timing. If the defense moves fast, the offense must react instantly. If the defense moves slowly, the defense may react slowly.

4. High-post ball reversal: the player at the H.P. should be able to pass the ball to the weak side.

5. Replace the man in from of you if he leaves.

6. The ball should always go from the outside to the inside and then back out again.

7. At least one of your two big guys should set up behind the defense to keep the zone "destructured" and low.

8. Set good low-post screens against a match-up zone.

9. Each player should always count "1" or call his name before acting.



Diag. 1: 4 and 5 set up in the low post areas behind the last defenders. The guards (2 and 3) deploy in the gaps in a way that will enable them to form equal-sided triangles. 1 passes to 3 on the side, while 4 moves to the short corner (or outside if he can shoot) for the pass from 3, who then crosses to the opposite side. 5 moves to the elbow on the ball side, 1 fills in for 3, and 2 fills in for 1.4 can now make three different passes: to 5 (elbow), 1(side) or a skip pass to 3 (Diag. 2).

Diag. 3 (in sequence): 4 passes back to 1, who passes to 2. At the same time, 4 moves to the low post. 2 passes to 3, who can then hit 4 underneath or 5 stepping into the paint.


Diag. 4: If the two defenders stay back, 2 will dribble toward the left defender's inside shoulder to keep him busy. That will force the back defender to stay with 3 and leave the area open for 4, who will come underneath for the pass from 3. The latter will also have 5 as an optional receiver.


Diag. 5: 1 drives to the right, 3 moves to the corner, and 4 fakes a move to the opposite side and then goes to the elbow on the ball side. Meanwhile, 2 moves into the gap off the 3-point arc and sets up between the two defenders one pass away from the ball-handler (1). 1 now has four passing options: vertical to 3, parallel to 4, diagonal to 2, and skip to 5.


Diag. 6: If 1 decides to pass to 3, 5 will move to the low post on the (ball side), and 2 will shift to the left and look for the cross-court pass from 3.


Diag. 7: If nothing happens, 3 will send the ball back to 1, who will dribble to the opposite side with his left hand. At the same time, 5 will move across the lane to the low post. He sets a screen for 3 crossing from the baseline to the opposite corner. 2 drives into the paint and then comes out to the opposite side (top), while 4 fakes into the paint and comes back to the opposite elbow.


Diag. 8: 1 will now have a choice of four different passes to the players in new positions.


Diag. 9: The same offense can be played against zone defense with half-court traps: 1 dribbles to a point just over the mid-line, 3 shifts to the corner, 4 moves into the center of the floor (one pass away) and 2 moves to a help position, ready to receive the ball. 1 now has four option passing targets: vertical to 3, diagonal to 4, parallel to 2, and skip to 5.

Diag. 10: If the defense moves out to the left side, 4 will move into the key, 2 will shift to the corner, 5 will move into a help position, and 2 shifts to the near corner. In a trapping situation, we want to act as swiftly as possible: 1 no has four passing options: parallel to 3, diagonal to 4, vertical to 2, and skip to 5.

By Ted Rodopoulos, Master, Greece Basketball Academy Former coach, National Team
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Title Annotation:BASKETBALL
Author:Rodopoulos, Ted
Publication:Coach and Athletic Director
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2004
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